Volume 2
Chapter XVIII
 

That night the British soldiers camped in the village. All over the country the rebels had been scattered and beaten, and Bonaventure had been humbled and injured. After the blind injustice of the fearful and the beaten, Nicolas Lavilette and his family were blamed for the miseries which had come upon the place. They had emerged from their isolation to tempt popular favour, had contrived many designs and ambitions, and in the midst of their largest hopes were humiliated, and were followed by resentment. The position was intolerable. In happy circumstances, Christine's marriage with Ferrol might have been a completion of their glory, but in reality it was the last blow to their progress.

In the dusk, Ferrol and Christine sat in his room: she, defiant, indignant, courageous; he hiding his real feelings, and knowing that all she now planned and arranged would come to naught. Three times that day he had had violent paroxysms of coughing; and at last had thrown himself on his bed, exhausted, helplessly wishing that something would end it all. Illusion had passed for ever. He no longer had a cold, but a mortal trouble that was killing him inch by inch. He remembered how a brother officer of his, dying of an incurable disease, and abhorring suicide, had gone into a cafe and slapped an unoffending bully and duellist in the face, inviting a combat. The end was sure, easy and honourable. For himself--he looked at Christine. Not all her abounding vitality, her warm, healthy body, or her overwhelming love, could give him one extra day of life, not one day. What a fool he had been to think that she could do so! And she must sit and watch him--she, with her primitive fierceness of love, must watch him sinking, fading helplessly out of life, sight and being.

A bottle of whiskey was beside him. During the two hours just gone he had drunk a whole pint of it. He poured out another half-glass, filled it up with milk, and drank it off slowly. At that moment a knock came to the door. Christine opened it, and admitted one of the fugitives of Nicolas's company of rebels. He saw Ferrol, and came straight to him.

"A letter for M'sieu' the Honourable," said he "from M'sieu' le Capitaine Lavilette."

Ferrol opened the paper. It contained only a few lines. Nicolas was hiding in the store-room of the vacant farmhouse, and Ferrol must assist him to escape to the State of New York.

He had stolen into the village from the north, and, afraid to trust any one except this faithful member of his company, had taken refuge in a place where, if the worst came to the worst, he could defend himself, for a time at least. Twenty rifles of the rebels had been stored in the farmhouse, and they were all loaded! Ferrol, of course, could go where he liked, being a Britisher, and nobody would notice him. Would he not try to get him away?

While Christine questioned the fugitive, Ferrol thought the matter over. One thing he knew: the solution of the great problem had come; and the means to the solution ran through his head like lightning. He rose to his feet, drank off a few mouthfuls of undiluted whiskey, filled a flask and put it in his pocket. Then he found his pistols, and put on his greatcoat, muffler and cap, before he spoke a word.

Christine stood watching him intently.

"What are you going to do, Tom?" she said quietly. "I am going to save your brother, if I can," was his reply, as he handed her Nic's letter.